Utah should have the power to reject a controversial trainload of contaminated soil from Michigan that is en route to a Tooele County waste-disposal facility, even though the state may find this particular load acceptable, Gov. Norm Bangerter said.
The governor sent a letter Wednesday to the House Energy Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials, complaining that having to accept out-of-state waste puts an "undue burden" on Utahns.But even if Congress had already given states the ability to turn down shipments of out-of-state wastes, Bangerter said Utah still would have permitted the Michigan material to be disposed of here.
"I think we'd have to take it. Our people have looked at it. It is not hazardous. It has been de-listed (as a hazardous waste), and all agree we can handle it," Bangerter's press secretary, Francine Giani, said.
"We're lucky this time that this dirt doesn't present a hazard," Giani said, acknowledging it has become an emotional issue. "The disadvantage is we don't have the control to say, `No,' and have the choice to turn down a load if we did have concerns."
Environmental activists have focused national attention on the train headed for Utah with 2,000 tons of soil contaminated by acrylic acid during a spill in a 1989 train accident in Michigan.
Although state environmental officials have agreed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency that the soil is not hazardous, they have ordered that it be handled as if it is.
The issue of whether states should be able to control what materials are allowed across their borders is the subject of a House Energy Subcommittee hearing.
Bangerter told the subcommittee chairman in his letter that Utah and other states that have commercial hazardous waste facilities "continue to bear the unfair burden of being the dumping ground for the rest of the nation."
The problem, the governor explained, is that the commercial waste disposal industry isn't building new facilities in states where such facilities are not presently located.
That leaves Utah with commercial waste disposal facilities that depend on out-of-state shipments to stay in business and what the letter called, "a `dumping ground' image."
The governor, who heads the Western Governors Association Solid Waste Task Force, said states should develop capacity to handle their own potentially hazardous wastes.
"I am concerned that the citizens of Utah are continually placed in a position to accept the health and environmental risks associated with out-of-state waste, simply because it cannot be disposed of in the state that generated it. This is an unfair burden," the letter states.
Bangerter concludes his letter by stating, "When it comes to developing ways to keep pace with the country's waste generation and the increasing shortages in waste management capacity, Utah and the West are not the answer."
The governor is joined in his concerns by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who testified before the subcommittee Tuesday that Western states need power to make sure they don't become the nation's "cesspool and respository."
Utah likely has a new boycott to think about: a national boycott of beef products if the state accepts a controversial shipment of contaminated soil for disposal.
Greenpeace, the international environmental activist group, has been protesting the shipment of 2,000 tons of soil contaminated by acrylic acid in a spill in 1989 in a train accident. The soil is headed for a hazardous-waste disposal site in Tooele County.